Black unemployment in the multiracial small business industry

January 13, 2011 3 comments

Black unemployment in the multiracial small business industry

Tamara K. Nopper

January 13, 2011

A while back, my colleague, an African American college professor, and I were discussing Black unemployment in conversation with one of my areas of research, immigrant and minority-owned business.  She recounted a recent visit to a Dunkin’ Donuts in which she was pleasantly surprised to encounter a middle-aged African American man working at the store.  As she described, she pointed to this man as she thanked the manager of the store, a South Asian American, “for hiring him.”  When I asked what the manager’s reaction was, she told me he beamed instantly in response as if he was paid the highest compliment.  She also mentioned that the African American worker later whispered to her the same reply as expressed by his manager—“thank you.”

This story may seem odd for several reasons.  For one, it is difficult to imagine a white person walking into a business and thanking a manager (of any race) for hiring a fellow white person.  Second, when conversations about race and employment are discussed, a job working at Dunkin’ Donuts is not generally treated as the ideal opportunity by policy makers and advocates.  But let’s consider the significance of this story in relation to several issues: the crisis of Black unemployment, the increasing reliance on small business as a source of employment, and the growing number of non-Black people of color and immigrants in positions to hire employees in small firms.

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Why I oppose repealing DADT & passage of the DREAM Act

September 19, 2010 9 comments

Why I oppose repealing DADT & passage of the Dream Act

Tamara K. Nopper

September 19, 2010

One of the first books I read about Asian American feminism was the anthology Dragon ladies: Asian American feminists breathe fire.  In one of the essays, author Juliana Pegues describes scenes from a “radical Asian women’s movement.”  One such scene involves lesbian and bisexual Asian and Pacific Islanders marching at Gay Pride with signs reading “Gay white soldiers in Asia?  Not my liberation!” and “ends with the absence of all soldiers, gay and straight, from any imperialist army.”

Although it has been over a decade since I read this passage, I return to this “scene” as I watch far too many liberals and progressives praise the possible repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) as well as the possible passage of the DREAM Act (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act).

In some ways, I understand why people are supportive of such gestures.  The idea that certain identities and status categories, such as gay or lesbian or (undocumented) immigrants are either outlawed or treated as social problems has rightfully generated a great deal of sympathy.  And the very real ways that people experience marginalization or discrimination—ranging from a lack of certain rights to violence, including death—certainly indicates that solutions are needed. Further, far too many non-whites have experienced disproportionate disadvantages, surveillance, and discipline from both DADT and anti-immigrant legislation.  For example, Black women, some of whom are not lesbians, have been disproportionately discharged from the U.S. military under DADT.  And anti-immigrant legislation, policing measures, and vigilante xenophobic racism is motivated by and reinforces white supremacy and white nationalism.

Yet both the repeal of DADT and the passage of the DREAM Act will increase the size and power of the U.S. military and the Department of Defense, which is already the largest U.S. employer. Repealing DADT will make it easier for gays and lesbians to openly serve and the Dream Act in its present incarnation may provide a pathway to  legal residency and possibly citizenship for some undocumented immigrant young people if they serve two years in the U.S. military or spend an equal amount of time in college.

Unsurprisingly, the latter, being pushed by Democrats, is getting support from “many with close ties to the military and higher education.”  As the Wall Street Times reports:

Pentagon officials support the Dream Act. In its strategic plan for fiscal years 2010-2012, the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness cited the Dream Act as a ‘smart’ way to attract quality recruits to the all-volunteer force…

‘Passage of the Dream Act would be extremely beneficial to the U.S. military and the country as a whole,’ said Margaret Stock, a retired West Point professor who studies immigrants in the military. She said it made ‘perfect’ sense to attach it to the defense-authorization bill.

Louis Caldera, secretary of the Army under President Bill Clinton, said that as they struggled to meet recruiting goals, ‘recruiters at stations were telling me it would be extremely valuable for these patriotic people to be allowed to serve our country.’

Additionally, in a 2009 Department of Defense strategic plan report, the second strategic goal, “Shape and maintain a mission-ready All Volunteer Force,”  lists the DREAM Act as a possible recruitment tool under one of the “performance objectives”:

Recruit the All-Volunteer Force by finding smart ways to sustain quality assurance even as we expand markets to fill manning at controlled costs as demonstrated by achieving quarterly recruiting quality and quantity goals, and through expansion of the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI) program and the once-medically restricted populations, as well as the DREAM initiative.

What concerns me is that far too many liberals and progressives, including those who serve as professional commentators on cable news and/or progressive publications (and some with a seemingly deep affinity for the Democratic Party) have been praising the passage of the DREAM Act.  Unsurprising is that many of the same people support the repeal of DADT.  While a  sincere concern about discrimination may unite both gestures, so too does a lack of critical perspective regarding the U.S. military as one of the main vehicles in the expansion and enforcement of U.S. imperialism, heterosexuality, white supremacy, capitalism, patriarchy, and repression against political dissent and people’s movements in the United States and abroad. Far too many liberals and progressives, including those critical of policies or the squashing of political dissent, take an ambivalent stance on the U.S. military.  It is unclear what makes some of these folks unwilling to openly oppose the military state.  Perhaps it’s easier than dealing with the backlash from a variety of people, including the many people of color and/or women who are now building long-term careers in the military.  Or maybe it’s more amenable to building careers as pundits in both corporate and progressive media,  both of which may be critical of some defense spending or “wasted” (read unsuccessful) military efforts but not necessarily of U.S. militarism.

Whatever the case, the inclusion of more gays and lesbians and/or undocumented immigrant youth in the U.S. military is not an ethical project given that both gestures are willing to have our communities serve as mercenaries in exchange for certain rights, some of which are never fully guaranteed in a homophobic and white supremacist country.  Nor is it pragmatic.  By supporting the diversification of the U.S. military we undermine radical democratic possibilities by giving the military state more people, many of whom will ultimately die in combat or develop PTSD and health issues and/or continue nurturing long-term relationships with the U.S. military, including a political affinity with its culture and goals.  We will also have a more difficult time challenging projects of privatization, the incurring of huge amounts of debt, and the erosion of rights and protections in other countries—efforts buttressed by the threat of military action—which ultimately affects people in the United States.

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Southwest Airlines & “The Souls of White Folk”

September 9, 2010 7 comments

I wrote this in 2008, before I had my own blog; Kenyon Farrow graciously posted it on his blog.  To deal with the stress of the situation I detail, I wrote notes and ideas on the little white bag provided in the seat pockets to passengers during my flight.  I couldn’t write my way out of the situation I experienced but I knew when I got off the plane that I was going to go home and write this essay.

“Southwest Airlines & ‘The Souls of White Folk’”

Tamara K. Nopper

March 2, 2008

In his 1920 essay “The Souls of White Folk,” African American scholar and activist W.E.B. Du Bois raised the question: “‘But what on earth is whiteness that one should so desire it?’” Answering his own query, Du Bois responded, “Then always, somehow, some way, silently but clearly, I am given to understand that whiteness is the ownership of the earth forever and ever, Amen!”

A recent incident I had while flying on Southwest Airlines demonstrates Du Bois’ point. I therefore detail the situation here both to document it and to theorize its relevance for understanding contemporary white supremacy.

As is practice with Southwest, I had boarded the plane when my category of seating was called. Having been lucky enough to download the boarding pass for category A, I was among the first to pick my seat. Shortly after sitting down, an older white man sat in the seat next to mine. He then proceeded to spread his legs wide open as if, to quote a wise person I know, “he thought he had balls the size of pumpkins.” In response to the uninvited pressing, I requested room for my legs. The man then proceeded to imperiously point his finger to the floor to emphasize that his feet were within the boundary of his seats. He never addressed the fact that his legs were spread beyond them so as to invade my space and press up against my body. Instead, he said to me, “You’re a big girl.” Talking on my cell phone, I interrupted my conversation to calmly tell the man “Don’t fucking talk to me that way.”

With his right hand, the man reached across himself to grab my left arm. With my arm in his grip, he looked me in the eyes through his glasses and replied, “I’m going to slap you in your mouth.” I freed myself from him and then stood up. I called out to the steward at the front of the plane that I needed assistance since I had just been grabbed by the person sitting next to me. Hurriedly, the man bolted out of his seat, muttering that he would move. As he exited the row he made it a point to emphasize that I had cussed at him, neglecting the fact that he had made the comment that initiated our negative exchange.

I turned around to be met by a young, white woman steward named Crystal G. Webb. When I told her that I had been assaulted by the man who was now making a mad dash for a seat a few rows back, she began to laugh. As she bit her lip, a smirk escaped. I informed her that I did not appreciate her laughing and that I did not pay to be assaulted on a plane. She then asked me if I wanted to speak to her supervisor, to which I said yes.

Ms. Webb returned with an older white woman named Ms. Terri Parker. Wearing a Southwest uniform that was more official than that worn by Ms. Webb, she led the two of them as they approached my seat. Before she reached me, another older white man had sat down in the seat that had been vacated by my assailant.

I repeated my story to Ms. Parker, adding that Ms. Webb had laughed at my concerns. Ms. Parker asked me if I would like to press charges. I said yes. However, I changed my mind when I learned that it would require me to get off the plane with the man who had assaulted me and be placed on a later flight.

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On progressive “red-baiting”

September 4, 2010 3 comments

This is a slightly more extensive version of the essay featured in Black Agenda Report on September 8, 2010.

On progressive “red-baiting”

Tamara K. Nopper

September 4, 2010

In response to a critic, a popular progressive figure commented, “I’m defender of republican democracy, US Constitution and liberty and justice for all.  I’m progressive dem, not authoritarian leftist.”  While perhaps correct in the self-description,  such comments hint at an intellectualized version of red-baiting.

Red-baiting of course is not new and today many people throw the word leftist as well as radical, revolutionary, Socialist, Communist, or Anarchist, around like they are accusations rather than developed albeit  perhaps diverging  positions regarding capitalism, the state, and for some of  us, white supremacy.  Most of the people who are the most vociferous in publicly denouncing leftists are white conservatives, including corporate news personalities and members of the inherently racist and white nationalist Tea Party.  Yet progressives critical of racism, poverty, corporations, and government officials have their own ways of red-baiting.

Not all of the targets of this red-baiting of which I speak are associated with Marxist organizations or have specific organizational affiliations.  Nor do most progressives publicly use pejoratives such as “Commie” or “Pinko.”  Yet  some will strategically use terms such as “authoritarian leftist,” “radicals” or “revolutionaries”  or “Marxist” when trying to deflect questions posed by people unimpressed with their political positions but whose opposition cannot easily be dismissed as driven by white supremacy or conservatism.  Such gestures are consistent with red-baiting; individuals can simply shut down inquiry or interrogation of their political positions by strategically using labels unpopular among a general public trained to hate such terms; the strategic use of these labels plays upon white nationalist fears and pan-racial bourgeois sentiments by invoking the specter of revolutionary and liberation movements, armed struggle or armed resistance or rioting (as opposed to pacifism or non-violent resistance), militant Black power, and  a classless society.  In the process, such gestures take advantage of, and implicitly condone  the aggressive campaigns by the mainstream press, most academics, and the state to demonize and criminalize stances that are too oppositional against white supremacy or capitalism or state violence.  The use of such labels, while sometimes correct in their assertion (since there are many who proudly identify as having certain affiliations), often work to insulate progressives  from having to explicitly articulate their positions and why they are committed to the ones they take, thus situating their stances, as undefined as they may be, as logical or natural as opposed to ideological and  up for debate.

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White men under attack: Reverse “yellow fever” from “just an (Asian) girl in the world”

June 7, 2010 2 comments

White men under attack: Reverse “yellow fever” from “just an (Asian) girl in the world”

Tamara K. Nopper

June 7, 2010

One of my guilty pleasures is the show Law & Order.  I say guilty pleasure because its premise—a cop show—is nothing short of repulsive as are the requisite story lines, characters, and narratives regarding the state and criminality.

While I can deconstruct the racial, gender, sexual, and class politics of every Law & Order show I have ever watched, a particular one stands out to me because its main suspect was, like me, an Asian American woman.  The episode, “Just a girl in the world” (season 20, episode 2), featured the character Emma Kim, an Asian American journalist who reports being attacked by a cab driver.  It is later revealed that Kim reported a false claim in order to throw off detectives from their investigation into the murder of Daisy Chao, an Asian American Crime Scene Unit investigator whose dead body (discovered by her white fiancé) is shown in the opening scenes.

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Watching what we’re up against: Challenges facing anti-militarization activism in the post-civil rights era

April 14, 2010 1 comment

Watching what we’re up against: Challenges facing anti-militarization activism in the post-civil rights era

Tamara K. Nopper

April 14, 2010

At the end of February of this year I had the opportunity to participate in a panel called “Beyond 28 days: Testimonies of Black resistance and war.”  As panelists, we were asked to comment on two films that had been shown at the event, both of which explored the impact of war on communities.  The first, No Vietnamese ever called me n****r, is a documentary released in 1968 that flows back and forth between interviewing African Americans who are either participating in or observing an anti-war feeder march of Harlem residents toward the United Nations office in New York and an interview with three young Black male veterans who discuss their experiences in the military, the unfulfilled promises of military service, their concern for the Vietnamese people affected by the war, and their commitment to the Civil Rights Movement and Black humanity.  The second was a 2006 youth-created film titled A military education: Youth and the cost of war, which explores contemporary military recruitment strategies and youth resistance.

The request to relate our comments to the film fit perfectly with what I had wanted to talk about that evening: the challenges facing those of us who are both anti-war and anti-military in the post-civil rights era.  Specifically, I am interested in what obstacles we face as a movement seeking to counter the appeal of military service.    I am not the first, of course, to think about this issue, as several anti-war organizations, whether defunct or still operating, have emphasized and challenged the U.S. military’s promise of “good” jobs and educational benefits after the tour of duty is completed.  Along with simply being moved by the footage of resistance, what stood out to me the most about the two films was how they represented two extremely different approaches to military resistance.  While No Vietnamese showed political opposition to the Vietnam War—as well as to the U.S. government and the socially enforced racial hierarchy— A military education was a film typical to today’s political culture.  No Vietnamese expressed raw political opposition whereas the second one was trapped in the professionalization of political critique, with no one taking too explicit of a stand against military enlistment.  Additionally, No Vietnamese’s footage involved people literally being asked on the street what they thought of the war and the anti-war march that they were either participating in or observing whereas A military education allowed for a diversity of voices, including one white college professor who emphasized the potential of military service for civic engagement and a Black woman military recruiter who discussed the purpose of her work.  This is not to suggest that A military education was pro-war, per se, as scenes of the military recruiter in action talking to a young person considering enlistment were juxtaposed with commentary by anti-war activists, including one of my former colleagues from The Central Committee of Conscientious Objectors (CCCO), an organization for which I had volunteered and that was kind enough to give me an activist home for several years.

A military education, while inherently a valuable project, nevertheless illustrates the current obstacles facing anti-military activists.  While some might think it unfair to critically engage a youth-made project, I think it is useful to consider how A military education represents the current political environment in which anti-militarization activists attempt to voice opposition to the military state.  More, the approach to military resistance shown in the film is similar to that found in most documentaries and short films made by both established and neophyte filmmakers.  Specifically, the popularity of this approach to anti-military work is indicative of what we’re up against.

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Model minorities versus Black (reverse) racists: Blacks, Asian Americans, & South Philadelphia High

December 21, 2009 9 comments

Model minorities versus Black (reverse) racists: Blacks, Asian Americans, & South Philadelphia High

Tamara K. Nopper

December 18, 2009

As a resident of Philadelphia and an Asian American concerned with and engaged in research and writing about Black-Asian relations, I have been following Asian American students’ recent boycott of South Philadelphia High School after almost 30 of them were purportedly physically attacked by a group of Black and Asian students on December 3, 2009. The whole situation makes me sad.  Yet I’m concerned with how Black people are being implicated by some of the media reporting and political support for the students.  Specifically, I am concerned with how some are taking advantage of the situation to promote the all too popular and white supremacist charge of Black reverse racism, even when some of the alleged perpetrators have been identified as Asian American.  In the following I explore the image of Black reverse racism and how some non-Blacks have used this to marshal support for their causes.  I also consider how the Asian American students at South Philadelphia High are being depicted by some of the media and supporters as model minorities in opposition to Black criminals and reverse racists.

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